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FLORENCE — Households that need help with rent and utilities in Pinal and 11 other Arizona counties may apply through a new Emergency Rental Assistance Program beginning Tuesday., Feb. 23.

Direct payments will be made for rent and utilities, including arrears, and other expenses related to housing instability resulting from the pandemic, according to an announcement from the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Payments will be issued directly to landlords or utility companies on the renter’s behalf.

Individuals may apply online at des.az.gov/ERAP. The Pinal County Housing Department can be reached at pinalcountyaz.gov/housing and 520-866-7201.

“Households across the state continue to face economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are pleased to be able to provide this new assistance program alongside the other services we have to offer at DES,” Director Michael Wisehart said. “We will work quickly and diligently to provide rental and utility assistance to those in need.”

The ERAP is available to both landlords and renters. While both may apply for assistance, eligibility is based on the renter’s address and risk of homelessness, housing instability or unsafe living conditions as demonstrated by an eviction notice; utility shutoff notice; past due rent notice; past due utility notice; or other evidence of unsafe or unhealthy living conditions or housing instability.

These may include the renter or member of the renter’s household is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits or has experienced a financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, or the renter’s household income is less than or equal to 80% of the Area Median Income. Priority will be given to renters with household incomes under 50% AMI and to those who have been unemployed 90 days or longer.

Renters must provide a copy of lease/rental agreement, photo ID, electricity and/or gas bill, disconnection notice (if any), proof of income, eviction notice (if applicable) and proof of hardship, such as a termination letter.

Arizona will receive a total of $492 million from the U.S. Treasury Department for this program. DES was awarded $289 million and will partner with 12 Arizona counties to distribute the funds. The balance was awarded to municipalities with more than 200,000 people to distribute locally.

Beginning Tuesday, Arizona households will be able to apply for up to $3,500 in rental and utility assistance for each month. After their initial application, households may receive up to 12 months of assistance. After receiving 12 months of benefits, whether for arrears or future payments, the household may apply for a three-month extension of benefits upon providing documentation of eligibility to DES.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.